New York’s Pioneer Women Gallerists

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re going to explore the stories of New York’s pioneer women gallerists

Combining world-class architecture, legendary museums, and a long history of performances on Broadway, New York City has been one of the great artistic hubs of the world since it began growing centuries ago. It should come as no surprise that its collision of ideas and cultures sparked the imaginations of art lovers from all over the U.S.A. and beyond. Throughout the 20th century, as women began to explore new roles in society, a movement of women gallerists made waves in the city as they collected art and curated a series of legendary galleries. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re going to explore the stories of a few of these artistic pioneers.

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim at the Greek Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1948. Source: Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Peggy Guggenheim’s larger-than-life reputation extended far beyond the art world. A member of New York City’s wealthy Guggenheim family, Peggy was a globetrotting socialite who fell in love with art as she traveled and met many prominent members of the bohemian communities around the world. Throughout her travels in Europe and North America, she collected countless works of art, picking up steam with abstract and surrealist pieces at the outbreak of World War II.

Though Peggy experimented with galleries in France and England, the war in Europe eventually led her back to her home city in 1941, where she opened a new gallery called The Art of This Century, which specialized in cubist and abstract art. By then, her extensive personal collection contained works from such legendary painters as Picasso, Dali, Magritte, and Ernst. She also held a series of groundbreaking shows, advancing the careers of American artists like Jackson Pollock and William Congdon.

Once tensions in Europe cooled off, she crossed the Atlantic once again, eventually landing in Venice. There she displayed and promoted the work of a great deal of American painters that Europeans hadn’t seen before. Today, the Peggy Guggenheim collection is one of the most popular attractions in Venice.

Peggy Guggenheim may not have been a New York City loyalist, but she played a pivotal role in spreading the work of artists across continents, and her roots and influence can still be found all over The Big Apple.

Paula Cooper

Paula Cooper at her gallery on West 21st Street. Source: NY Times

If you’ve gone gallery hopping in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, you’ve likely come across the groundbreaking and awe-inspiring pieces that inhabit the Paula Cooper Gallery. Cooper has run her own gallery for 54 years now, first pioneering an early space in the now-legendary Soho neighborhood. At the time, she was recently separated from her husband, over halfway into a pregnancy, and caring for a two-year-old child. However, she was determined not to let these challenges prevent her from following her dreams.

From the start, Paula favored minimalist and conceptual pieces rather than those that focused on technical execution. She was one of the first gallerists to emphasize that the idea of a work was just as important as the work itself. Her ideas quickly spread and gained popularity.

If pioneering the Soho district wasn’t enough, Cooper moved her flagship gallery to Chelsea in the 1990s. Chelsea was still in the early stages of gaining traction as an artistic hub, and her landmark gallery was a major player in its growth. Today, at age 84, she still runs the gallery alongside a small team that includes her son.

Marian Goodman

No list of women gallerists would be complete without Marian Goodman, who is one of the most respected and influential contemporary art gallerists not just in New York City, but in the entire world. Goodman grew up in the Upper West Side, but she never originally dreamed of joining the New York City art scene. Her initial goal was to join the United Nations, but a creative itch drew her to art history studies at Columbia, where she was the only woman in her program.

Goodman began collecting prints in 1962, and within three years she had graduated from Columbia and was able to open a print gallery called Multiples. This gallery published prints by a variety of noteworthy artists including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Multiples continued to grow for over a decade, eventually incorporating more kinds of work from artists both local and international.

In 1977, Goodman opened the Marian Goodman Gallery, which she is best known for. Though the New York City location is the original, Goodman went on to open branches in Paris in 1995 and London in 2014. The 94-year-old legend still lives in the Upper West Side, but her influence is found all over the world.

Miki Stiles

Though she spent the first thirty years of her life in her home country of Israel, Miki Stiles moved across the globe to New York City in 1980 to pursue her artistic dreams. Stiles was more than just a gallerist; she was a sculptor and painter who originally sought a gallery to represent her. Frustrated by the process, she eventually decided to take matters into her own hands and open one herself, with the aim of giving artists an opportunity to present their work on the biggest art scene in the world.

Miki Stiles at Agora Gallery

1984 saw the opening of Stiles’ Agora Gallery in Soho, which was the city’s landmark downtown art district at the time. In the years that followed, the gallery grew, and Stiles worked and collaborated with countless artists in the city, both as a gallerist and an artist.

Sadly, Miki Stiles passed away in 2000, but her legacy lives on. The gallery functions in the Chelsea district since 2002. More than three decades later, the spirit and influence of Miki Stiles live on at Agora Gallery.

Opening reception at Agora Gallery

Barbara Gladstone

Barbara Gladstone was always interested in art. Her early passions led her to a teaching position at Long Island’s Hofstra University, but she was eventually inspired by the New York City art scene to open her own gallery in 1980. It started out tiny, with Gladstone balancing gallerist duties with a suburban life raising three sons. Her early work featured the now-legendary Jenny Holzer, and slowly but surely, the Barbara Gladstone gallery grew.

In 1989, Gladstone began collaborating with an Italian gallerist named Christian Stein on a new gallery called SteinGladstone, which featured new and obscure works by Italian and American artists. From here, her collaborations continued and she displayed a knack for finding and featuring artists with bright futures ahead.

Today, Gladstone Gallery is one of the most well-respected art galleries in the Chelsea district. The New York City location may be the most prominent, but Gladstone Gallery also has an impressive branch in Brussels. She’s still active in the arts community, even serving on the board of the non-profit group Artists Space.

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